With Bounty Punishment, NFL Has its Pete Rose Moment

| April 5th, 2012

“Alright, gentlemen, here’s the deal. If you sack the quarterback on Sunday you get $500. If the quarterback lays on the ground for more than three seconds you get $1000. If the quarterback is carted off the field you get $2,378 in TJ Maxx gift certificates. If the quarterback is pronounced dead in the locker room, I will take out a low interest mortgage on a summer cottage for you in either southern France or Northern Ireland. If the quarterback’s wife dies from a broken heart within three months of his passing I will finance a feature film based upon your life and experiences to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola.”

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams provided incentives to players for not only big hits and big plays but also for injuring opponents. The response from the football world have been split, almost down the middle. The middle-aged white guy sports writer (Peter King being their patron saint) and NFL hierarchy on Park Avenue  (led by Colonel Goodell) were appalled by this practice. They responded with scores of “string-him-up” newspaper columns and several of the harshest suspensions ever doled out in professional football. The players-turned-analysts littering the productions sets of Bristol and Los Angeles  deplored the act of injuring other competitors purposely but did so with a “this goes on more than you know” wink to the camera. Apparently it goes on more than we fans know but not a single analyst admitted to taking part. Hmmm…

What the Saints did was wrong. We all know it was wrong. We all know bounties should not take place in an already dangerous game. A game that leads to Earl Campbell being unable to walk to the bathroom and Dave Duerson’s brain ultimately ending his life. And you don’t need me to jump atop my high moral steed to tell you that the NFL would be a far better place without situations like the terribly named “bountygate”. Just imagine if one of these bounty scenarios resulted in the paralysis of a player. The NFL, the Saints and Gregg Williams would not only be mired in a sport controversy. They would be shamed before Congress in front of the whole nation. They would face significant prison time.

The controversy hit a ludicrous level when Warren Sapp leaked publicly that Jeremy Shockey had blown the whistle on the bounty program. Shockey defended himself, threatening Sapp with a defamation lawsuit. That response, in typical Shockey form, was idiotic and misguided. He acted like being accused of dime dropping on this heinous practice was downright McCarthy-esque. What should he have said?

“No I did not report the details of the Saints bounty program to the NFL. I have far too much respect for my coaches and fellow teammates to go behind their backs and risk their careers and reputations. But do not take that to mean I condone their behavior. Setting out to intentionally injure a player is inexcusable in our game and should be punished to the fullest extent of the NFL’s ability. Each Sunday we put ourselves at risk simply by tightening the chin strap. Providing a cash prize for attempting to destroy the livelihood of a fellow player is tantamount to criminal behavior.”

Ask yourself this. How much would your perception of Shockey changed with a statement like this? How celebrated would he have become as the human face of this inhumane scandal?

Thursday morning, the day Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis were set to have their appeals heard by the commissioner, came with Mike Silver reporting/releasing game day audio capturing Gregg Williams encouraging his players to go for the heads of opponents. While on the pile. After the play is over. Ross Tucker responded not uncommonly on Twitter:

Unless you’ve been in the NFL you have no context/frame of reference for the Gregg Williams audio.

Sigh. Here it comes again. Until Dan Graziano of ESPN Tweeted the following:

People — esp those who played — are saying the Gregg Williams audio isn’t unusual. I think the point is, it needs to be.

Bingo. That is the issue of these bounties in a nutshell. No one is arguing this was not a common practice around the NFL. No one is arguing this has not taken place in the league since before many of us were born. The point is it needs to stop. Now. And if Roger Goodell has to end Gregg Williams’ career to save one, just one, player from meeting Duerson’s fate…so be it. If Roger Goodell has to end Gregg Williams’ career to extend the career of Kyle Williams or Aaron Rodgers or even Brett Favre…so be it.

A cop walks into a bad neighborhood of Newark, NJ. The city I grew up next to. The city my hometown always considered our older, wayward brother. Cops walks into that neighborhood and sees a gun crime. It’s not unusual, he knows that, but it’s the first one he’s literally seen. Does he ignore it because it’s common? No. Of course not. He comes down as hard as possible on the individual committing that crime in hopes it will (1) send a message to others participating in the illegal activity and (2) prevent that particular individual from ever doing damage. That is why Goodell’s response is so apt. With this punishment the NFL has had its Pete Rose moment. And when you talk to baseball players one thing becomes abundantly clear. They’ll do a lot of things wrong before they even consider betting on baseball.